New Jersy Imam fatally shot dead outside mosque amid rise in Islamophobia

Hassan Sharif, an Imam at a mosque in New Jersey, breathed his last at a hospital, after he was fatally gunned down when he left a mosque after morning prayers.

On Wednesday 6 am, Imam Sharif was in his car when an unidentified killer shot him more than once near the Masjid Mohammad mosque, where he had been the resident imam for four years, in Newark.

As call to prayer echoed through South Orange Avenue from the mosque, a multitude of mourners assembled for a vigil commemorating Sharif.

According to the authorities, the Sharif was shot one time in the abdomen and the right arm.

The Officials are still searching for the shooter, as they are working to determine what led up to the slaying of the man remembered as a beacon in his community.

Newark’s mayor, Ras J. Baraka said the authorities would “bring the perpetrator to justice, no matter how long it takes.”

“Imam Hassan Sharif stood with the people of this city, and we will stand with him and his family,” Baraka added.

People who knew Sharif, 52, personally, are remembering him as a preacher of peace who was an active voice against injustice and violence in Newark.

“Imam Hassan Sharif was younger, so could relate to them on that basis,” said Jimmy Small, president of the Muslim League of Voters of New Jersey.

“He made sure he worked with the community, that’s how he could reach them. A lot of young people passed the masjid and got a free lunch. He was going out and talking to the youth about gun violence and how dangerous it was,” Small added.

But this was not the first time Sharif was attacked, earlier, in August, Sharif was attacked at the mosque in a similar manner, as he was on his way to morning prayers, according to one of his Facebook posts.

On his Facebook page, Sharif had described the encounter as a “definite test” in which a man approached him after he got out of his car and put a gun to his head. Sharif was able to pull the gun away from the attacker, who fled the scene.

“Every morning as my daily routine, I go to the masjid to offer Fajr salat (prayer) this morning out of all was a definite test, as I get out of my vehicle heading inside I was approached by an unwanted guess who thought it was a good idea to come behind me and put a gun to my head,” Sharif had written in his Facebook post.

“Allah definitely showed mercy toward him this morning, and I pray he take heed of that mercy and turn his life around,” Sharif wrote of his assailant, adding: “I will die trying to see our people change in this world.”

The attack on Sharif comes as Islamophobia is on the rise across the United States and other western countries, as hate crimes against Muslims have spiked in Western countries, following the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel.

In a report by the the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Muslim advocacy group and rights organization in the US, between 7 October and 4 November, it received a total of 1,283 requests for assistance and reports of prejudice.

“We advise all mosques to keep their doors open but remain cautious especially given the recent spike in anti-Muslim bigotry,” said Dina Sayedahmed, a spokeswoman for the New Jersey chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Matthew Platkin, New Jersey’s attorney general agreed to the fact that there is fear and anxiety among New Jersey’s Muslim population.

“I know that in light of global events and with a rise in bias directed at many communities we are experiencing across our state, particularly the Muslim community,’ Platkin was quoted as saying.

He further said law enforcement has stepped up outreach to houses of worship, particularly Jewish and Muslim ones, explicitly acknowledging the tensions unfolding in many parts of the world amid the fighting in Gaza.

Platkin also acknowledged the growing gun violence across the US, as there are more guns in the US than people, amounting to 120 guns for every 100 Americans.

“We also know that Imam Sharif is just the latest casualty in the senseless gun violence epidemic that plagues our state and our country,” he said.

In 1973, the then Imam of Masjid Muhammad, James Shabazz, was also shot to death in his driveway.

Mehdi Moosvi

Mehdi Moosvi

Mehdi Moosvi is an Indian journalist and researcher based in Tehran, who writes on international relations.

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